There’s a post I’ve been working on for a couple weeks – it’s about my family’s relocation from Arizona to Montana when I was a tween. It’s not a great post but it’s a necessary bridge to get me to where I want to go next. We moved in the summer of 1990, more than 21 years ago and about 40 degrees warmer than today. It’s hard to write about a sunny summer day when this is day four or five of 20-mph winds and torrential rain.
Autumn reminds me of endings. It’s not my favorite season. It doesn’t have the still calm of winter, the hope of spring, or the lazy sanguine properties of summer. Autumn is a year’s worth of family gatherings and eating pressed into weeks, it’s the claustrophobic press of humanity just to save a few bucks on a toy or electronic, it may be a time of thanksgiving but it’s also a time of being inwardly focused – we’re thankful that we have more than the other guy or gal. Thanksgiving is the day we all become the chunky kids at the dinner table eating our dinner because everyone else out there is a starving Ethopian.
For Mother and Dad, though, autumn reminds them of beginnings. It was Election Day that they met when Mother was a late-shift bartender and Dad was a network deejay. It was the day after Thanksgiving forty years ago when they married. Those two events were three years, one child, and two divorces apart – the chronology of which eluded me until I was in my late teens.
Dad used to joke (okay, he still does) that he and my mother never married. The absence of a marriage certificate and that they don’t wear wedding rings made that fib a bit more possible. My Catholic prep school brother (the technically illegitimate one) never found that funny but most of the time it just beaded and rolled off my back. Still, even on just one topic only, I wanted a straight answer from Dad. Finally, one day he agreed that he and my mother were, in fact, married. By that time, I didn’t know what to believe so I grilled him further.
“Why don’t you wear a wedding ring?”
Dad: “Your mother’s is too tight and I don’t like them because I’m worried I’ll catch my hand when working outside.”
“Where’s the marriage certificate?”
Dad: “We lost it when the office burned down years ago.”
“Was there a priest or minister or JP or someone REAL doing the marriage?”
Dad: “Yes, your mother’s friend who’s a judge.”
Me: “Were there witnesses?”
Dad: “Yes. My mother, your mother’s father and mother, and your mother’s friend.”
Me: “So let me get this straight. You wear no trappings of marriage, you don’t have a certificate, a ‘friend’ gave the ceremony, and all of your witnesses are dead. Why don’t you say that Jimmy Hoffa was there, too?”
Dad laughed. He’d always wanted a skeptic for a daughter.
When I was in college I had a lot of friends who were coming out to their families. A friend had a guide on how to come out. One suggestion to never come out at a family event like a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration because then the (presumably happy) memory of that event will always be tied to a (presumably unhappy) memory of your declaration of gayness. It seems like sound advice across the board. Don’t get married (or divorced) around a holiday because it’ll be tied together forever.
Dad’s in the winter of his years and this seems to prompt an increasingly urgent trip down memory every Thanksgiving where Mother remembers the day they met, the day they married. I’ve heard the stories so many times that I’ve jokingly attached a number to them. “Oh, Mom, that’s story #12 and next you’re going to share story #82!” (Okay, it’s not really funny.) Sometimes I wonder if she thinks that by telling the stories more often she can recapture some of that youth, postpone a bit longer my dad’s inevitable demise, as though they are charms.
On rough days with my own marriage, I think a lot about my parents and theirs. They’ve made it 40 very long years together and those were not easy years. Many times Dad walked out on Mother (deservedly so) only to come back and make it work once they cooled off. Neither of them are people I would want to be or marry – but they so beautifully deserve and complement each other that I couldn’t imagine them with anyone else. (Truly, I don’t know anyone else would take them.)
When I try to justify myself, I invariably return to “they were divorced, too. They only made it work on their second try.” That allows me to excuse my desire to break away, be a single woman again, look forward to the hope and excitement of Husband 2.0 who is the better match for the adult me, rather than the person the teenaged me dated.
But then I look at their relationship, the only one I know, to discern clues for why they were able to make Marriage #2 work. They’ve not become any easier to live with, that’s for sure. What did they do ‘right’ that I can try to stir feelings of love, affection, desire?
The only answer I’ve found: It’s the stories. Remembering and retelling the story of how we met, trying to remember what brought us together, of why we are where we are. Using the story’s ending to create new beginnings.
I’m in a strangely Pollyanna mood and I have no idea whether this would work. But I want to have my own stories told by my child, and in a perfect world, I’d like the other character in the stories to still be with me.